Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) trails Montreal Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber (6) during first period NHL exhibition hockey action ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Toronto on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The federal government says it has issued an exemption to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for NHL players and staff to return to Canada for training camp under national interest grounds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Alberta approves NHL games, Manitoba and B.C. still in discussions

Alberta approves NHL games, Manitoba and B.C. still in discussions

Alberta is the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season, while at least two of its counterparts say they are working on the issue.

In a statement to The Canadian Press on Thursday, the Alberta government said it approved Edmonton and Calgary for competition on Dec. 25 following the review of protocols outlined in the league’s return-to-play plan, along with some additional enhancements.

Later Thursday, a spokesperson for the Manitoba government said discussions concerning the NHL and hosting games in Winnipeg are ongoing.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer in Manitoba, said the province was a joint signatory on a letter sent to the NHL by the five Canadian jurisdictions with teams last week and is working toward the resumption of the season.

“There is still some paperwork and procedural steps that need to take place but, from a public health perspective, it’s a solid plan.”

Atwal said there are a couple of small steps that still need to be finished.

“I believe one is that the orders have to change to allow them to play,” he said.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday that his province is still discussing whether games can be hosted there.

“We haven’t given a final answer but we will soon,” he said at a news conference.

Health officials in Quebec and Ontario did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether NHL games can be held in those provinces.

The confirmation from Alberta is the first from any of the five provinces with NHL teams since deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated on Dec. 24 that the league believes it can play games in all seven Canadian markets.

Those franchises will only play each other during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs as part of a newly-formed North Division, and won’t be crossing the border with the United States, which remains closed to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daly’s Dec. 24 statement came after TSN and Sportsnet reported Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, sent a note to the league on behalf of the provinces asking for increased testing or a return to a scenario in which all teams would be in a secure zone in one city, like the NHL did this summer in Edmonton and Toronto.

The provinces wanted to take a collective approach to speaking with the league, Dix said.

“We have made suggestions to the NHL, which they have taken up, and we believe that those plans meet the safety protocols in terms of a public health risk,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said Thursday.

“It’s now over to the respective provinces to determine whether the games will happen or not.”

In a separate statement Thursday, the federal government said it has issued an exemption to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for NHL players and team staff returning to Canada for training camps under “national interest grounds.”

Daly said in an email to The Canadian Press that modified quarantine procedures for players and team staff entering the country are determined by provincial health authorities.

“Modified quarantine means different things in different markets,” Daly’s email read.

However, the provinces with NHL franchises must give their approval for games to be played between Canadian teams during the regular season, which is scheduled to start Jan. 13.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said the league’s plan for training camps offers “robust measures to mitigate the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 in Canada.” It added all provinces with NHL clubs have provided written support for the plan.

The agency said all teams must operate within provincial rules for regular-season play.

The Ottawa Senators were one of seven clubs across the 31-team league to begin training camp Thursday after not qualifying for the summer post-season as part of the resumption of the pandemic-halted 2019-20 campaign. The other six Canadian teams are slated to open training camp Sunday or Monday.

The federal government also cleared the Toronto Blue Jays to hold training camp at Rogers Centre under “national interest grounds” this summer, but rejected a proposal for home games against teams from the U.S. The Blue Jays eventually settled on Buffalo, N.Y., as their 2020 base.

Few Canadian professional sports teams have played on home soil during the pandemic.

The six NHL clubs to qualify for the 2019-20 post-season saw action in Toronto and Edmonton, and Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS played a nine-game series against one another. The Canadian Elite Basketball League held a summer series in St. Catharines, Ont., and soccer’s Canadian Premier League staged a condensed season in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

The soccer teams were cleared to take part in a series of games against each other in August and September before relocating to the U.S. to face American opposition.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misstated which Canadian sports teams played during the pandemic.

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